Interior abandons reintroduction plans for North Cascade bears

The Department of the Interior has abandoned plans to reintroduce grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) into the North Cascades ecosystem.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt made the announcement last week during a community meeting in Washington state.

The reintroduction effort was formally launched five years ago, when environmental review for the project began. The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft Environmental Impact Statement in 2017 in which they analyzed four potentials option — three different reintroduction scenarios, each with a population goal of 200 bears, and a fourth “no action” alternative. A final EIS selecting one of those action alternatives was never issued.

In abandoning the plan, Bernhard said in a statement, “The Trump administration is committed to being a good neighbor, and the people who live and work in north central Washington have made their voices clear that they do not want grizzly bears reintroduced into the North Cascades.”

The North Cascades ecosystem in the United States comprises 9,800 square miles, 97% of which is public land. In 2018 former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said, “restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades ecosystem is the American conservation ethic come to life. We are moving forward with plans to restore the bear to the North Cascades, continuing our commitment to conservation and living up to our responsibility as the premier stewards of our public land.”

In his announcement last week, Bernhardt noted that “grizzly bears are not in danger of extinction, and Interior will continue to build on its conservation successes managing healthy grizzly bear populations across their existing range.”

The day after Bernhardt’s announcement, a federal appeals court ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its 2017 decision to remove grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone area from the list of species protected by the Endangered Species Act. They found that that the delisting decision was not based on the best available science and the agency erred in refusing to commit to recalibrate population targets and mortality quotas if the agency changes its method of estimating the bear population.

The Wildlife Society supports delisting the Yellowstone grizzlies, as long as recovery targets continue to be met and demographic rate thresholds are maintained, releasing a statement and submitting comments in response to the Service’s 2016 delisting proposal.

The Service is currently in the midst of a status review of grizzlies, also due to legal action. Under the terms of a prior settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the review must be published by the end of March 2021. The last review of the species across the contiguous United States, published in 2011, reported 582 bears in the Greater Yellowstone area, 765 in the Northern Continental Divide region and less than 20 in North Cascades.

Read The Wildlife Society’s statement supporting the delisting of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone area.

Header Image: The Department of the Interior has abandoned a plan to reintroduce grizzlies into the Northern Cascade ecosystem. Credit: David Renwald